A pre-Waterfront chat with Cheap Trick's Bun E. Carlos

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-1124903280913.jpg’, ‘file photo by James Thompson’, ‘Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos (shown here playing at On the Waterfront in 2003) turned down being in the family roofing business to pursue his dream of playing the drums.’);

Cheap Trick’s résumé is one that you already know. They are easily one of the most influential bands in rock music over the last four decades, and the love they share for their craft keeps them touring and recording almost incessantly. Their faces are known throughout the planet, and they have given a global voice to a manufacturing city with dreams of grandeur.

It’s difficult to write a story about Cheap Trick that hasn’t already been done sometime in the last 30 years. Even though journalists have undoubtedly asked the band members virtually every question imaginable, our lust for more quotations is insatiable.

With that in mind, drummer Bun E. Carlos checked in with The Rock River Times via telephone on the eve of his band’s On the Waterfront show with Alice Cooper. He shared his thoughts on a variety of topics, including skeptical fans, future plans, and even makes a birthday wish of sorts for a bandmate.

Jonathan Hicks, The Rock River Times (TRRT): After 30-plus years playing in this band, what keeps you motivated? What keeps you still wanting to play shows?

Bun E. Carlos (BEC): We keep doing new material, and that helps keep it interesting. This is what we do best. People want to hear the hits, and we don’t mind playing them. During “I Want You To Want Me” and “Surrender” when the crowd starts cheering—there’s nothing wrong with that.

TRRT: You, as a band and as an individual, have been cited by countless bands—bands that span a lot of different genres—that share one thing: the citation of you as a major influence. How does it feel knowing that during your time in this band, you’ve had that kind of impact on other bands?

BEC: It’s great. When we started, people would ask us who influenced us, and we’ve name-checked bands that we grew up with. … We never thought that we’d be around long enough for the tables to be turned and have bands mentioning us. That’s high praise when your peers recognize you.

TRRT: Not long before he passed away, you had the chance to work with John Lennon. Can you tell me about what that was like or how you remember that?

BEC: Me and Rick (Nielsen) went in to do a tune with John and Yoko (Ono), because they were having a hard time getting a feel for one of the songs they were working on. The guy who produced it said, “Yeah, I know a couple of guys that can probably do that song really good.” So they called us up—it was pretty cool, obviously…a highlight of your musical career. We walked in and John Lennon’s standing there, and he said “You guys are in Cheap Trick!” So he knew who we were. They told him our names, but they didn’t tell him what band we were in, but when he saw us, he kind of recognized us. He’d obviously been keeping up with his stuff. It was really cool. Working with him and working with Yoko was great.

TRRT: In the time that you’ve been a band, you’ve had the opportunity to see Rockford change, probably in a lot of different ways. How has the Rockford music scene changed in those 30 years?

BEC: When we started, there were a lot more places to play…a lot more opportunities for live musicians to work. We didn’t have any DJs back then. And the 18-year-old drinking age in Wisconsin and some of the neighboring states meant the stateline was full of clubs…places for bands to play. So that’s the big difference: there’s not as many places to play, and, of course, back then you needed a drummer if you needed some drums, and now you can just go buy a box. Stuff like that’s changed. Live music’s just not as popular as it used to be.

TRRT: Do you still get excited about it on a local level?

BEC: Oh, yeah. We go out and check bands out. I went into the Fuse Studios and did some tracks with Mark Weller a couple of months ago. He’s a local guy, and he’s got something to say musically. There’s a lot of stuff like that going on. There’s bands around town who are trying to get it going. And it’s tough for those guys these days. It’s a lot tougher for them because bands are passé these days compared to what they were 30 years ago.

TRRT: So do you think that Rockford is a microcosm of a much bigger scale thing?

BEC: Rockford doesn’t have a college, so it really doesn’t have much of a music scene. Quote me on that—because it doesn’t. But there are places like Kryptonite and Elixur and Chubby Rain’s…there’s venues that hire bands and feature bands and music. So a lot of people still like to do it.

TRRT: With the show coming up with Alice Cooper, and having seen you guys play here in Rockford a handful of times, I’ve always wondered what the best and worst parts about playing at home are.

BEC: When you play your hometown, of course, every person you ever knew would love to get a free ticket. Then you also have your family, which, in my case, is a lot of people. So the guest list is a nightmare when we play Rockford. Of course, a lot of people out there—especially at this point and time—(say) “Oh, I’ve seen those guys… I see them up at Waverly Beach.” We’re probably more famous out of Rockford than we are in Rockford. The neat part is that after a show, I can go to North Main (Tap) or Finnegan’s and have a beer or something and go home.

TRRT: Does it ever bug you that sometimes Rockford fans and crowds take you guys for granted a little bit?

BEC: I don’t let that kind of stuff bug me. I’d get more gray hair (laughs). Rockford is my home and it’s a nice place to come home to. If I want to be more famous in Rockford, I should go be more famous in Rockford.

TRRT: The big question…this is a serious one. What does it feel like to have a really huge sock monkey dedicated to your band?

BEC: Ha! That’s something different. We go around the country, and we see different animals in different towns. A lot of towns do this…they do a buffalo or they do a pig or something like that. (laughs) People from Rockford—they’ve got a sock monkey! People go, “What the hell’s a sock monkey?” And I say, “I don’t know, I don’t have a clue.” Mention a sock monkey outside of Winnebago County, and people just start laughing.

TRRT: If you weren’t in a band all these years, what would you do?

BEC: I’d probably be in the roofing business. That’s the family business here.

TRRT: Happy with the drumming, though?

BEC: Oh, yeah. I quit the roofing business to be a drummer.

TRRT: Was that a choice that your family ever gave you grief about?

BEC: Of course. My dad was wondering what I was thinking when I did it. And the day I came home with my first gold record, five years later, he said, “So are you ready to get a real job now?”

TRRT: What can we expect from Cheap Trick in the next few months and years?

BEC: Next year, there’s a new album coming out. We’re mixing tracks. We’re finishing up the album…it’s in the mixing stage and the artwork stage. So that will be next year. As for the Rockford show, we have to go on after Alice Cooper, so it’s going to be our greatest hits—every Cheap Trick song that you ever wanted to hear or that you do hear on the radio. We’ll be up there playing them, and trying to make you forget the guy that was just on before us. Alice Cooper—he’s a tough guy to follow.

TRRT: What do you say to those people who are kind of on the fence who say, “I’ve seen Cheap Trick half a dozen times, I’m not sure if I want to go out to On The Waterfront…” Why should they show up?

BEC: I think they should go f— themselves (laughing). They should show up because we’re great, and next year maybe we won’t be here. They should show up because they want to see the band. It’s a great night. I mean, having two bands like that, instead of one headliner, they get two headliners. It’s a great value for the money. The Waterfront people put on these concerts at Davis Park all summer long, and it’s a great value. The bands you see in Rockford in the summer—go see them in any other town and see what it costs you. It’ll cost you twice as much.

TRRT: Was there anything that I left out or didn’t ask about that you wanted to mention?

BEC: All of us in Cheap Trick this year are hoping
that the Rockford paper—for the first time in 12 or 15 years—gets Rick’s birthday right. The Rockford paper, for at least the last 10 years, has gotten Rick’s birthday wrong—and we’re sick of it. I pick up the Rockford Register Star, and I say, “Well, they can’t get Rick’s birthday right, so I don’t know if I can believe anything I read in there.”

Cheap Trick plays the Great Lawn Stage on Thursday, Sept. 1 with co-headliner Alice Cooper. The On The Waterfront opening night performance begins at 7:30 p.m. Reserved seats are $36.50 in advance and general admission seating is $18. Tickets are on sale now. For more information, visit www.onthewaterfront.com or www.cheaptrick.com.

From the Aug. 24-30, 2005, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!